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Old 11-08-2013
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Re: Sailing a Cutter

My sense is this, a cutter rig works well if you live in an area where the predominant winds are sufficiently breezy that you rarely need to use a genoa, or if you do long passages where you rarely have to tack or jibe. But in areas where there is a high percentage of light to moderate winds, and where you tack and jibe frequently, a cutter rig is a serious PIA.

There are a range of reasons why this is so. First, the foretriangle on a cutter is generally proportionately bigger than that of a sloop. So you are starting with a bigger headsail to handle.

Big genoas tend to be less efficient than taller aspect ratio sails and so require more area to be able to generate the same forward drive. This means that the already bigger headsail due to the bigger foretriangle, needs to have a larger overlap in order to generate the same forward force.

In order to keep the slot of the working jib open, genoas on cutters normally are routed outboard of the shrouds. This reduces the ability to point as high. When combine that with a boat with a lot of drag relative to its working sail plan, like the Hans Christians, you are talking about boats that do not point as high as boats with more efficient hulls and sail plans. That means a lot more tacking when sailing in confined sailing venues. There are similar problems avoiding blanketing the headsails downwind meaning more jibing in confined venues as well.

And then there is actual work to tack a cutter. It is always harder to tack a genoa that has a large overlap than one without. In the case of a cutter, the genoa not oly has a lot of sail to drag over the shoruds but there is also a very large of sail area aft of the jibstay. If there is enough breeze, the genoa will blow through the slot, but that generally means that you have been forced to overstand the tack toget enough force to blow it through, and so you end up winching in a lot more line on a more heavily loaded sail. You also lose an excessive amount of forward speed in the interim. For that reason, some cutter owners will partially furl the genoa on the tacks.

Either approach is not a problem offshore where you time the frequency of your tacks by the day rather than the minute, but its a real pain in the butt when beating up a river where the quality of every tack counts. When I owned a cutter, I sort of got used to the issue, choosing to sail with the jib topsail in confined quarters whenever the breeze was even close to enough to move the boat with the smaller sail, rather than fight with the genoa. But that strategy also meant more frequent sail changes when the wind died down.

Jeff
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